WARSAW, Poland – Following weeks of negotiations that stalled, an unexpected and dangerous rescue, and an 18-hour, high-speed race across Ukraine, a 27-year-old Michigan native has been safely reunited with his American family in Poland after being falsely accused of espionage and illegally held captive by Russian forces in eastern Ukraine for more than a month.
Kirillo Alexandrov, who was falsely charged with espionage and illegally detained along with his Ukrainian wife and mother-in-law by the Russian military and security service, is the first American victim and survivor of Russian war crimes during the Ukrainian-Russian war. Now, following a successful and complex rescue operation conducted by Project DYNAMO, Alexandrov and his family are free.
On Monday, after weeks of planning, Project DYNAMO initiated their rescue, orchestrating Alexandrov and his family’s escape from Russian captivity. They had to successfully pass through more than 20 Russian checkpoints to a secure location near the contested vicinity of Kherson, Ukraine. After spending one night in a safehouse, they continued on to a discreet location where they were met by the Project DYNAMO exfiltration team backed by armed Ukrainian security detail.
Project DYNAMO is a donor-funded, Florida-based, non-profit organization that has been operating throughout Ukraine since early February and negotiating for Alexandrov’s release since early April.
In late March, while attempting to evacuate his home near Kherson, Ukraine — more than 100 kilometers behind the front lines and wholly controlled by Russian forces — Alexandrov and his family were captured, detained, and falsely charged by the Russian military and security services with 11 fabricated crimes that included alleged spying and espionage on behalf of the U.S. government.
According to Alexandrov, Russian soldiers violently assaulted his wife, handcuffed him, beat him on multiple occasions, and conducted mock executions, a direct violation of the Geneva Convention and a violation of basic professional military honor and human dignity.
Alexandrov and Project DYNAMO are now in discussions with the United Nations, the International Criminal Court, and the U.S. Departments of State, Justice and Defense regarding the abuse Alexandrov and his family sustained while in the custody of Russian forces and multiple Security Services.
“We have heard reports of war crimes in the media. We have met many victims and witnesses to these atrocities through the other operations we have conducted here. But to hear these accounts firsthand from an American citizen and his family and discovering what they endured by these forces enrages me,” said rescue mission leader Bryan Stern, co-founder of Project DYNAMO and a combat veteran of the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy. “What these men did to this young couple is vile and the definition of dishonor by military standards. Their lives will forever be altered for no reason other than being an American. My hope is that the U.S. government and international agencies against war crimes take these accusations into account and respond accordingly. No person, American or otherwise, should ever be subjected to such brutality.”
Project DYNAMO was first made aware of the situation by Alexandrov’s mother who contacted Project DYNAMO asking for help. Understanding the seriousness and urgency of the situation, and the fact that Kirillo is an American, representatives from Project DYNAMO immediately informed the appropriate government agencies, including the State Department. His mother, Gloria, was then contacted by and met with the FBI who were already aware of Project DYNAMO’s efforts. Project DYNAMO, while actively forward-deployed in Ukraine, engaged their extensive network of Ukrainian and Russian contacts, and started planning their most complex and dangerous rescue yet. Both the State Department and FBI advised that due to the overall situation and the charges alleged, that Project DYNAMO was Alexandrov’s best hope for rescue and evacuation to safety.
“There were two ongoing, parallel strategies during the weeks preceding the rescue. The first, was a negotiated agreement with the Russians, where the false charges would be appropriately dropped, Kirillo’s passport returned, and he and his family released from captivity. The second, was a ground-based, tactical rescue operation exercising our developed human and physical infrastructure in the denied and occupied areas to execute a secret, unilateral rescue,” explained Stern. “We ultimately went with the unilateral option and were successful to the extent that Russian negotiators engaged with us more than five hours after we already had the family”.
Project DYNAMO received intelligence that Alexandrov was scheduled to be extradited to Moscow, where he would presumably be leveraged for propaganda and face imprisonment for more than 20 years in a Russian prison for the false espionage charges levied against him. Then, on Russian Victory Day, when the negotiation efforts stalled, Project DYNAMO identified a narrow window of opportunity that they exploited to initiate their ground-based, tactical operation and execute Alexandrov’s rescue.
“I was in the dark as to what was going on, or what else the Russians would do to me and my family, or what our fate would be. I thought we would be killed every day and this would be the end of us” said Alexandrov. “My wife and I are the victims of war crimes at the hands of the Russian military and Security Services, and beg the international community to acknowledge and respond.”
According to Stern, while many tactical options were explored, including land, air, and water via the Dnipro river, ultimately a ground operation was selected through the highly-dangerous, fragile, and contested areas between Ukrainian and Russian checkpoints in Russian-controlled Kherson Oblast. The mission was designated “DETROIT LIONS”, and Alexandrov, a Michigan native was referred to as “LION 1.”
“I will never and could never forget any of this” Alexandrov said. “I don’t know how I can ever repay Bryan and his team for all of this, because we would be dead if it wasn’t for them.”
Project DYNAMO conducted the very first rescue mission to take place during the war within the first hour of hostile actions in Kyiv and has since rescued almost 700 people in over 60 missions from the most hostile areas of the war zone in Ukraine.
Project DYNAMO is a 501(c)(3) donor-funded non-profit organization headquartered in Tampa, Florida, and was established by several U.S. service members during the U.S. pullout from Afghanistan in 2021. Recognizing that the U.S. government was unlikely to conduct operations on the ground in Ukraine, Project DYNAMO forward-deployed team members in January of 2022 to begin planning for rescue operations in the event of a Russian invasion. Project DYNAMO remains operational in Ukraine and Afghanistan today.
Project Dynamo is entirely funded through donations. Those interested in donating or learning more about Project DYNAMO can do so by visiting www.projectdynamo.org.
Derived from “Operation Dynamo,” the codename issued to the Dunkirk evacuation operation of World War II, Project DYNAMO is a privately run, donor-funded evacuation organization being run by extraordinary civilians attempting to do the impossible — rescue Americans and their allies from hostile regions of the world.